MU Director Briefs GU & NWU Students on Journalism, Culture, Politics, Ethics

Becoming a journalist today requires a modified skill set to the one needed decades ago, but the principles of news gathering, fact checking, story telling and ethics remain the same, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told students in Doha.

Magda Abu-Fadil on journalism today

Magda Abu-Fadil on journalism today

She addressed Georgetown University School of Foreign Service students and faculty members in October in Qatar on the evolution of journalism, on becoming a foreign correspondent, on politics, and on media ethics.

Informal lunch talk with Georgetown-Qatar students and faculty

Informal lunch talk with Georgetown-Qatar students and faculty

Abu-Fadil showed her audience how she had evolved as a reporter whose local and foreign assignments meant excellent preparations for stories through constant learning and knowledge as well as what was then available as tools of the trade.

Evolution of a journalist

Evolution of a journalist

The tools included notebooks, pens, recorders, batteries, cameras, lenses, filters, flashlights, tripods, and typewriters.

Mobile journalists, or mojos, including herself, using mobile, portable, connected devices have mostly replaced those earlier items, although several remain staples for reporters and photographers, she said.

Today’s mojos need fewer encumbering tools

Today’s mojos need fewer encumbering tools

The informal lunch gathering included students from Northwestern University’s Qatar campus who attend joint media classes at Georgetown.

Questions on whether it's worth becoming a journalist

Questions on whether it’s worth becoming a journalist

In another meeting with Georgetown students, Abu-Fadil spoke on media, culture and politics in the Middle East, focusing primarily on ethics (or the lack thereof) in print, broadcast, online and social media. 

Media Ethics: Whose Standards?

It bears repeating: media ethics aren’t a one-off endeavor and shouldn’t be a priority only when trouble brews.

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil made the point during the “Radio and Television Broadcasting Conference: Policies, Transformations, Challenges” organized in Amman by the Jordan Media Institute in May 2015.

Magda Abu-Fadil speaks on ethics in broadcast media

Magda Abu-Fadil speaks on ethics in broadcast media

She said broadcast media were under intense pressure, given tight deadlines, security threats, competition and shrinking budgets.

So the key challenges are: how do we define media ethics and who sets the standards when the journalism of terror is becoming the new normal?

Abu-Fadil spoke about representatives of major Western media who addressed the issue of “The journalism of terror: How do we bear witness when everybody is a witness?” at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy in April.

Given the unstable security situation in many countries, broadcast news is relying more and more on footage and reports from alternative and questionable sources like citizen journalists, terrorists, activists, NGOs, governments and others.

Live tweeting broadcasting conference

Live tweeting broadcasting conference

Abu-Fadil cited several broadcast, online and social media case studies from Arab and Western news organizations that were clear violations of ethical standards.

She wrapped up her presentation with the “Guide to Online Media Ethics in Arabic” and the guidelines for graphic content of the Radio Television Digital News Association in the U.S.

Abu-Fadil Speaks At Media Neighborhood Journalism Awards

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told an audience in Brussels that training journalists should be given adequate time to improve their skills, in all fairness to them and their instructors.

Abu-Fadil (center) discusses training successes and challenges

Abu-Fadil (center) discusses training successes and challenges

She was referring to a series of brief workshops for traditional journalists and bloggers from Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Georgia in which she co-trained with BBC veterans Russell Peasgood and Jim Fish.

Abu-Fadil spoke at the Media Neighborhood Journalism Awards in the Belgian capital in February 2015 – a culmination of a project funded by the European Union and delivered by a consortium led by BBC Media Action.

Abu-Fadil was involved in the latter part of a process that provided initial training and subsequent writing and producing assignments for various media.

bbc-media-neighbourhood-logo

Being fully functional in English, Arabic and French enabled her to assess the final products in those languages, with the majority being in Arabic. But in the case of Georgia, it was a bit challenging since print, online and broadcast reports were in Georgian or Russian, forcing her to rely on English translations.

On the plus side, Abu-Fadil and her colleagues emphasized and instilled in the trainees a sense of what solid journalism is, and should be.

They hammered away at the importance of proper and diverse sourcing, balance in presenting various sides in a story, ethical considerations, newsworthiness and accuracy.

They also stressed the importance of the correct use of language, grammar, attention to translated material, ensuring numerical data are presented in the proper context, writing strong leads and avoiding opinions in hard news reports.

Trainer Ali Khalil and team leader Jean-Michel Duffrene (background)

Trainer Ali Khalil and team leader Jean-Michel Duffrene (background)

Abu-Fadil reviewed obstacles journalists and bloggers faced in the countries they represented and how constraints were reflected in their work.

The Syrians encountered problems in verifying information and assorted dangers while reporting from the field in their war-torn country.

Lebanese media saw a decline in their ability to function freely while Palestinian journalists also faced safety and access to information problems.

Jordanian journalists also had to deal with increasingly stricter rules and laws, notably those related to online media.

Egyptian journalists had to contend with the country’s roller coaster ride from a 30-year dictatorship to interim leaderships and elected presidents, which resulted in an interesting mix of reports mirroring the state of affairs.

Trainers, trainees and mentors at awards ceremony

Trainers, trainees and mentors at awards ceremony

Ditto for Tunisian participants who hailed from the trigger of the so-called “Arab Spring.” They had also been conditioned to think and operate a certain way and were adjusting to their own transitional phase of government, which came out in their reports.

The Moroccan journalists had their own set of political issues but were also cautioned to avoid bias, to focus on the real story, and to sidestep long-winded rhetoric.

The least fortunate were the Libyans whose freedom had been locked up for four decades as was their lack of understanding of what journalism is.

The awards program was held at the European Commission and grouped trainers, trainee award winners, mentors, and consortium representatives.

The full training project targeted journalists from Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Moldova, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia and Ukraine.

Abu-Fadil Addresses Beirut Hate Speech Seminar

There’s never enough said about media ethics, notably when it involves hate speech perpetuated by the media.

So the London-based Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) partnered with Beirut’s Maharat Foundation and the Norwegian Institute of Journalism and convened experts from across the Middle East and North Africa to discuss how to combat hate speech in the media.

Director Aidan White explains EJN's five-point test for hate

Director Aidan White explains EJN’s five-point test for hate

I Hate You: Hate Speech and Sectarianism in Arab Spring Media is a good example of what we face today. It’s a 385-page book of well-documented case studies from across the region.

I Hate You: Hate Speech and Sectarianism in Arab Spring Media

I Hate You: Hate Speech and Sectarianism in Arab Spring Media

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil brought up the need for serious review of media ethics and presented guidelines on good journalistic practice at the November 2014 seminar in Beirut.

There are regular calls to end sedition and sectarianism in Lebanon, she noted, but said there were no serious efforts to hold the media, bloggers and activists accountable, without resorting to draconian measures like jail sentences and banning of outlets.

Magda Abu-Fadil demonstrates how media fuel hate speech

Magda Abu-Fadil demonstrates how media fuel hate speech

She pointed to the Arabic Online Media Ethics Guide launched with colleague Rouba El Helou in May to help netizens publish acceptable content.

“There’s a great need to shed light on hate speech that leads to murder and other crimes,” said Abdel Salam Sidahmed, the Middle East regional representative at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), adding that racism was on the rise on the Internet and in social media.

Attorney Tony Mikhael, who oversees Maharat’s media monitoring arm, explained hate speech in legal terms in Lebanon.

Attorney Tony Mikhael explains legalities and hate speech

Attorney Tony Mikhael explains legalities and hate speech

The event’s participants hailed from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Qatar, Turkey and Norway.

MU Director Helps Shape Next AFPF

Should the Arab Free Press Forum (AFPF) maintain its present format or should it change to adapt to fast-moving developments affecting the media landscape?

AFPF brochure.indd

What should the goals of such an event be, who is the audience, and what are their needs?

All legitimate questions discussed at an experts meeting in Cairo in September to help shape the next AFPF, traditionally organized by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).

WAN-IFRA's Andrew Heslop on plans for next forum

WAN-IFRA’s Andrew Heslop on plans for next forum

The agenda included debate on the format and content, synergies and partnerships, financing, funding streams and promotional channels for the next event.

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil participated in the meeting aimed at giving shape to a future event for the independent press in the Middle East and North Africa.

Abu-Fadil, a panelist at the fifth AFPF in Tunis in 2012 [PDF] in the wake of successive revolutions in Arab countries, addressed the question: How can the media regain public trust as a credible source of news?

Magda Abu-Fadil at 5th Arab Free Press Forum in Tunis

Magda Abu-Fadil at 5th Arab Free Press Forum in Tunis

Other participants at the Egyptian capital meeting included Egyptian journalist Fatemah Farag and Aidan White, Director of the London-based Ethical Journalism Network, to name a few.

The Arab Free Press Forum is a unique event that brings together media professionals from across the Arab world to provide a platform for the exchange of ideas, experience and best practice at every level of the news industry.

Fatemah Farag & Aidan White discuss ideas for next AFPF

Fatemah Farag & Aidan White discuss ideas for next AFPF

As part of WAN-IFRA’s ongoing commitment to supporting the independent press in the Arab region, the Forum reinforces longstanding engagements with partners from across the media industry and the freedom of expression community.

Abu-Fadil Launches Arabic Online Media Ethics Guide at MSF14

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil launched the Arabic Online Media Ethics Guide at a conference in Lebanon aimed at creating awareness about digital freedom and responsibility.

Charbel El Kareh listens as Abu-Fadil launches the guide

Charbel El Kareh listens as Abu-Fadil launches the guide

She presented the guide at the Media Studies Forum MSF14 at Lebanon’s Notre Dame University (NDU) which faculty member/journalist Rouba El Helou translated from a similar booklet edited by Andrea Gallo, a student at Louisiana State University.

Arabic Online Media Ethics Guide

Arabic Online Media Ethics Guide

It was well timed in May 2014 with the forum’s theme, “Ethics of Digital Media and Online Knowledge Production.”

Abu-Fadil raised issues like misattribution of sources, manipulation of visual content and accepting gifts during a panel entitled “Online Media Freedom and Ethics.”

Abu-Fadil and El-Helou at MSF14

Abu-Fadil and El Helou at MSF14

She showed a report that was the top story on a Lebanese TV newscast of a woman committing suicide by jumping off a balcony while her husband filmed it on his mobile phone to jolt the forum’s audience and sensitize participating students to what is and isn’t acceptable.

Since videos and photos can easily be manipulated, Abu-Fadil made a point of demonstrating how Tungstène, the fake photo finder used by Agence France-Presse, and other software can detect inaccurate visual data.

The Verification Handbook was another excellent resource to which she referred.

Screen shot of Verification Handbook

Abu-Fadil pointed to the dangers of “remixing,” what the code of best practice for fair use is, and what the School of Communication at her alma mater, American University in Washington, DC, did to explain it in a very handy video.

Lebanese Media Challenged in Covering Elections: Abu-Fadil

Lebanese media covering elections face a double challenge: reporting events tied to antiquated sectarian-based laws and grasping draft legislation aimed at reforming what’s on the books.

They must also deal with constraints on journalists and their organizations that hamper newsgathering and dissemination, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told reporters at a forum in Amman.

Magda Abu-Fadil on challenges in covering Lebanese elections

Magda Abu-Fadil on challenges in covering Lebanese elections

Her presentation drew on attempts by Lebanon’s National Commission on Parliamentary Electoral Law to streamline procedures, regulations on campaign finances, advertising, the voting age, establishing a quota for women candidates, permitting voters to cast their ballots in their place of residence, and, ensuring that serving cabinet members don’t double as legislators.

She showed video clips on a satirical campaign mocking politicians’ hollow promises, a spot on the divisiveness of sectarianism, the symbiotic relationship between the media and politicians, and how Lebanese youth view their elected officials.

Abu-Fadil also stressed the importance of being able to decypher government budgets and how public funds are spent.

A common thread at the forum was learning all about the candidates, their programs, the parties involved, campaign promises, policies, electoral rules and procedures, the vote counting process, surveys, and security measures.

Amman conferees discuss elections coverage in their countries

Amman conferees discuss elections coverage in their countries

The two-day seminar in November 2013 grouped Jordanian journalists who had attended training workshops on elections coverage with counterparts from Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Palestine and Iraq who had covered elections in their own countries as well as regionally and internationally.

Mai Shams El Din discusses Egypt's elections

Mai Shams El Din discusses Egypt’s elections

It was funded by the European Union and organized by UNESCO‘s Amman office .

UNESCO project manager Rut Gomez Sobrino and EU's Patricia Pennetier

UNESCO project manager Rut Gomez Sobrino and EU’s Patricia Pennetier

MU Director Presents MIL Case Studies at Doha Experts Meeting

Morocco, South Africa and The Netherlands offer good examples of how Media and Information Literacy (MIL) can be integrated into school curricula, experts were told at a meeting in Doha.

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil examined successful case studies from those countries at a three-day gathering in June 2013 organized by the Doha Center for Media Freedom (DCMF).

MU director proposes MIL solutions

MU director proposes MIL solutions

Abu-Fadil has written on the subject over the years and trained school teachers and activities coordinators on how to incorporate media literacy in their curricula.

The meeting dovetails with Qatar’s ambitious plan to ensure that public and private schools in the Arab Gulf emirate are fully media and information literate by 2014.

The DCMF is also aiming further afield to reach institutions in the Middle East and Africa.

“Media and Information Literacy (MIL) is a relatively new concept in the Middle East and suffers from a lack of knowledge among educators,” said DCMF Director Jan Keulen.

Qatar Higher Education Council's Asmaa Al Mohanadi, UN Alliance of Civilizations' Jordi Torrent and DCMF's Jan Keulen

Qatar Higher Education Council’s Asmaa Al Mohanadi, UN Alliance of Civilizations’ Jordi Torrent and DCMF’s Jan Keulen

But arming students with 21st Century skills and preparing teachers with the know-how to guide them is filling a gap in the country’s educational system, added Keulen, whose center is leading the charge.

The center organized the experts meeting on MIL in Doha grouping educators, ICT professionals, media practitioners and members of international organizations.

It included experts from Qatar’s Higher Education Council, Qatar University, ICT Qatar, UNESCO, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, Cairo University, Kuwait University, the African Center for Media & Information Literacy, Japan’s Hosei University, the European Association for Viewers Interest, and the League of Arab States.

DCMF's MIL strategy

DCMF’s MIL strategy

UNESCO  has been at the forefront of the MIL effort. It published a Media and Information Literacy Curriculum for Teachers in five languages that is available for download as a PDF.

Participants agreed to follow up on the meeting, develop and share ideas on implementing MIL in the Arab region, and, provide sustainable training programs, research and curricula for teachers.

Recommendations also emphasized the need for a shift in teaching methods, the establishment of exchange programs to build on successful youth-produced media initiatives, the creation of socially inclusive MIL programs for women and people with disabilities, and the building of national and international networks to share knowledge and resources.

The DCMF published a [PDF] report in English on the meeting.

The DCMF published a [PDF] report in Arabic on the meeting.

@SocialMediasPACE Empowers Lebanese Netizens

A standing-room only hall of Lebanon-based netizens sharpened their skills, rubbed shoulders with experts and networked feverishly to expand their professional and online activist horizons.

Dubbed @SocialMediasPACE, a one-day fair in Beirut grouped activists, bloggers, journalists, Net newbies and geeks to “explore ways to leverage the power of digital technologies to foster civic engagement and social change.”

Lebanon-based netizens acquire online skills

Lebanon-based netizens acquire online skills

“Google showed me how little I knew about marketing and personal branding,” admitted radio and TV talk show host Milad Hadchiti, the event’s MC who doubles as a branding coach, about his early encounters with the search engine and social media.

An introduction by media specialist Nada Hamzeh of The Promoting Active Citizen Engagement (PACE) program funded by the US Agency for International Development USAID), focused on ways to activate NGOs and civil society groups by building strategies for their social media and creating partnerships between different actors.

“The goal of this three-year $8.3 million PACE project, is to strengthen civil society’s ability to create a stronger civic culture and more democratic governance throughout Lebanon,” said Denise O’Toole, director of the Education, Democracy & Governance at USAID/Lebanon. “So far, a number of initiatives have been launched and successfully implemented under PACE to empower local organizations to become catalysts for change on a variety of issues in their respective communities.”

USAID’s Denise O’Toole

USAID’s Denise O’Toole

A first panel on content, not tools, featured cyber advocacy expert Imad Bazzi (a/k/a Trella), IndyAct communications director Ali Fakhry, Kazamedia founder Ahmad Karout and Online Collaborative digital marketer Darine Sabbagh.

“We can use cyberspace to send out political messages,” said Bazzi, who with cohorts launched a teasing campaign dubbed “Laehat Abeeh Nafsi” (I Sell Myself List) with frivolous content ahead of planned legislative elections in Lebanon.

Screen shot of Imad Bazzi’s (Trella) home page

Screen shot of Imad Bazzi’s (Trella) home page

 Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil chaired a panel entitled “Alliances that pay off: Convergence between traditional and social media, civil society and marketing professionals.”

“We’ve gone from video cassette tapes to mobiles and with the development of social media it’s good to be in touch with the people,” said Tania Mehanna, senior reporter/correspondent at LBCI TV.

Other panelists were Omar Sadek, managing director at J. Walter Thompson, Patrick Richa, head of web and news services at MTV-Lebanon, and Riad Kobeissi, investigative journalist at Al Jadeed TV.

MU's Abu-Fadil chairs panel grouping Riad Kobeissi, Patrick Richa and Omar Sadek

MU’s Abu-Fadil chairs panel grouping Riad Kobeissi, Patrick Richa and Omar Sadek

According to Sadek, private companies are becoming more involved in corporate social responsibility and trying to mix profits with their role in society.

“Media firms need content to draw in audiences. The alliance between NGOs and media via marketing companies is attracting more attention and can lead to the public good,” he added.

Networking was paramount at the confab. The program included social media roundtables using free and open source software, online safety and privacy, and consultancy booths featuring crowdsourcing and multimedia platform management.

The event was covered extensively by Lebanese media (PDF).

MU Director to Arab Strategy Forum: Social Media Aren’t Just for Kids

Catch the wave and ride it, don’t sink under it, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told participants at the Arab Strategy Forum 2013 in Dubai.

Arab Strategy Forum 2013 logo

Arab Strategy Forum 2013 logo

“We can’t operate in the media with a Stone Age mentality,” she insisted. “Social media aren’t just for kids.”

To prove the point and debunk traditionalists’ thinking, she spoke, tweeted and shot video during her session on the relationship between Arab media and social networks.

Abu-Fadil speaks, tweets and shoots video at ASF 2013

Abu-Fadil speaks, tweets and shoots video at ASF 2013

She also said there was a lot of useful information online.

But equally important is the ability to use critical thinking to filter through all the disinformation and misleading content, she added.

Arab media and social networks panel

Arab media and social networks panel

The forum, organized by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation (MBRF), grouped experts from across the Arab world and United States who discussed social networks and knowledge society.

MBRF CEO Sultan Ali Lootah opens ASF 2013

MBRF CEO Sultan Ali Lootah opens ASF 2013

They included Charbel Fakhoury, Microsoft’s vice president for sales and marketing in the Middle East, Mohamed Murad from Google Gulf, Kaveh Gharib from Twitter’s U.S. headquarters and Jonathan Labin from Facebook’s Middle East and Africa arm.

Dubai TV's Zeina Yazigi (right) chairs "Evolution of Social Networks" session

Dubai TV’s Zeina Yazigi (right) chairs “Evolution of Social Networks” session

Also on hand for the two-day forum in March 2013 were Saudi bloggers Molook Al Sheikh and Abdel Aziz Al Shaalan, Bahraini TV host Khaled Al Shaer, and Kuwaiti columnist Meshal Al Nami.

Emirati speakers filled the “Tweet Positively” panel that concentrated on religious aspects and positive values in uses of social networks, as well as individuals’ roles in protecting their nation from harmful media, and how to use Twitter for good causes.

Media covered the event extensively. [“المرأة العربية أكثر نساء العالم تفاعلا على مواقع التواصل الاجتماعي - النيلين”] [“موقع جريدة الأنباء - طباعة مقالة”] [دار الخليــــج-أخبار الدار-"المنتدى الاستراتيجي" يحذر الإعلام من عدم مواكبة "شبكات التواصل"”]